Ask Jessica Pare how it feels that her name and “Emmy contender” are being uttered in the same breath, and inevitably she giggles. A lot. The 31-year-old French Canadian is coming off a zeitgeisty season as the more-than-just-perky Megan Draper, wife of Mad Men’s complicated antihero Don Draper (Jon Hamm). From her season-opener rendition of the 1960 pop hit “Zou Bisou Bisou” to that sexy underwear fight scene with Hamm, Pare officially has arrived.
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The Hollywood Reporter: How has your life changed since becoming Megan Draper?
Jessica Pare: It’s been pretty fabulous, I have to say! This is the best job in the world. The writing is so amazing; there are so many layers, so much depth. It’s so beautiful, too — the detail of the sets, the costumes, working with those people on a daily basis. I honestly can’t believe my good fortune. The whole thing is just, “Ahh!” Every time I see a billboard for the show, I’m like, “I’m on that show!”
THR: Like your character, you’re also a French-speaking Canadian. When did you move to the U.S. to act full time?
Pare: I came here to work on the WB drama Jack & Bobby eight years ago. We only did one season, so I was kind of kickin’ around after that. I was really lucky to get the Mad Men audition. Initially, I went in for the part of the hooker.
THR: Wait, which part?
Pare: The first episode of last season, Don slept with a hooker! I went in to read for that for Matt Weiner. John Slattery was there as well because he was directing one of the episodes. He and I knew each other because he played my father on Jack & Bobby. (Laughter.) So they called me back to read for the Megan part the next week.
THR: Why do you think they felt you’d be better for Megan?
Pare: I think it was casting directors Carrie Audino and Laura Schiff who told Matt, “You have this other, bigger part to cast, and we want to see her for that as well.” It was amazing because I’d always been a huge fan of the show.
THR: So you’re cast to play Megan the secretary and suddenly you’re engaged to Don Draper. How did that feel?
Pare: I found out they were getting engaged, but I never went to the marriage stage in my head. Part of working on this show is that very little if any of the season arc is discussed. Last year, I knew less than nothing about my character, because you don’t know where it’s going, and I wanted to make sure that I didn’t act myself out of a job. I wanted to take care to be faithful to what was on the page and not try to put in more backstory when I didn’t know it. But before the last script came out, the props master measured me for a ring, so she and I were just like, “OK, we’re not gonna talk about this.” Then Matt called a little bit later to let me know that yes, indeed, this was what was going to happen.
THR: Megan had a lot of emotionally intense scenes this season, from the fight she has in her lingerie with Don to the episode where the ditch each other at Howard Johnson’s. Is there a moment that stands out as being particularly difficult for you?
Pare: Well, Megan is an actress, so I think there’s a part of her that’s a bit capricious. When we meet her parents, we can see where some of that explosiveness comes from. The underwear scene was so fascinating because she and Don obviously have an amazing physical connection that he didn’t have with Betty, and we see that Megan can be his equal. I think the power play in that moment was fascinating. But everyone was like, “Did you feel weird about doing that fight scene in your underwear?” Not really!
THR: Are you recognized more frequently by fans now?
Pare: It started slowly. We saw Megan last season, but I rarely got recognized for it. I also think Mad Men fans are not the kind of people to yell at you from across the street. We’re more likely to whisper sardonically to our neighbor. But now, when I get into an elevator, everyone will shut up and stare. I really want to break into a rendition of “Zou Bisou Bisou,” but I haven’t had the guts to do it yet.
THR: If you hear your name read on Emmy nomination morning, what do you think will be your first thought?
Pare: Obviously, I’ll be very excited. And surprised. I’m so flattered that they wanted to submit me in the lead actress category; there is so much talent. Lizzie Moss and Claire Danes — it’s just an incredible group of women I’ve admired for years. I’m keeping my expectations low, but a nomination would just make this whole situation that much more surreal.